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Reviewing Pennsylvania's involuntary manslaughter laws

A conviction for most violent crimes in Pennsylvania requires proof that the accused acted with intent to commit the act in question. An important exception to this rule is involuntary manslaughter. Proof of intent is not required for a conviction. Instead, the prosecutor must prove the existence of circumstances that show that the defendant acted without regard to the consequences of his or her actions.

Involuntary manslaughter occurs if a person dies as the "direct result" of the doing of an unlawful act in a "reckless or grossly negligent manner." An act that constitutes child abuse could be the basis for an involuntary manslaughter charge if the child died as the result of the abusive behavior, even though the accused had no provable intent to cause the child's death. Most types of involuntary manslaughter are classified as first degree misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for a term of up to five years.

In addition to the general definition of involuntary manslaughter, Pennsylvania law explicitly enumerates several types of manslaughter associated with the operation of a motor vehicle. These crimes are referred to as vehicular homicide. The crime of vehicular homicide is defined as operating a motor vehicle "recklessly or with gross negligence" and in violation of any law or ordinance related to operation or use of a vehicle. Legal intoxication and speeding are common examples of the kinds of violations that can lead to a charge of vehicular homicide. A conviction for vehicular homicide may result in an additional term of imprisonment of up to five years.

Involuntary homicide is a very serious charge, no matter whether it involves operation of a motor vehicle. Anyone facing such a charge may benefit from consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney. Such a consultation can provide a helpful analysis of the case and an estimate of the likelihood of obtaining a favorable plea agreement or outright acquittal.

Source: FindLaw, "Pennsylvania Involuntary Manslaughter Laws," accessed on Nov. 7, 2016

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